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honeybaked-ham

Take a look at the inset in the upper left corner of the image above (click on it for a larger view). The details are a little difficult to discern, in the photocopy of a photocopy of the HoneyBaked Ham offer as presented to a California court. But you can make out the dotted line, the prominent price, even what appears to be an expiration date.

Does it look like a coupon to you?

A Los Angeles woman claimed it clearly was. HoneyBaked Ham disagreed. So she sued. And now, five long years later, an appeals court judge has sided with the company and closed the book on the case.

The dispute started back in December 2011. While perusing her local newspaper, Gina Wood saw what “appeared to be a coupon good for the purchase of a quarter ham at the discounted price of $23.99 up to the expiration date of December 31, 2011,” her lawsuit explained.

So she clipped it out and brought it to a local HoneyBaked store. “She was told that ‘this is not a coupon’ and was ‘just advertising’,” the lawsuit read. Employees explained that what appeared to be a coupon was really just an ad, stating that quarter hams could be obtained at prices “starting at” $23.99.

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Wood was presented with a quarter ham that cost $30.70. Since she was planning to bring the ham to a holiday party, she reluctantly went ahead and paid, believing she had been overcharged by $6.71.

Fortunately for Wood, her husband is an attorney. So after the party, he filed suit on her behalf in a California state court. The lawsuit sought up to $3 million in damages, on behalf of Wood and all other customers who she believed were similarly overcharged.

The case went to trial three years later. Wood said she believed the “starting at” language referred to the fact that half and whole hams cost more, but that quarter hams could be obtained for a flat price of $23.99. A HoneyBaked Ham executive testified that was not the case. He claimed that no other customers were confused by, or complained about, the language in the ad. And besides, he said, “pursuant to the company’s policy of keeping the customer happy, the store employees would have found Wood a smaller ham if she had asked for one, or discounted a larger ham to $23.99.”

The trial lasted less than a day. The judge ruled that Wood did not prove the ad was likely to deceive “a reasonable consumer.” It’s “common knowledge that ham and other meats are generally sold by weight, and the price for a cut of meat varies by weight,” the judge determined. Furthermore, “although the ad used a dashed or serrated border around the box describing the quarter ham, HoneyBaked Ham did not intend for this to be a coupon that had to be presented at the time of purchase.”

An unhappy Wood appealed the decision. And now, an appeals court judge has upheld the lower court’s ruling. “All Wood had to do was ask for a smaller ham,” the judge scolded. “Instead, she filed a class action, and failed to meet her burden of proof.”

In addition to having to cover her expenses for two losing court cases, and spending $6.71 more than she had planned for her ham, the judge also ordered Wood to cover HoneyBaked’s court costs. For something that she thought was a coupon – it sure ended up costing her a lot more than she expected.

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